Source Text and Commentary
“In the year King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord. He was sitting on a lofty throne, and the train of his robe filled the Temple. 2Hovering around
him were mighty seraphim, each with six wings. With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with the
remaining two they flew. 3In a great chorus they sang, "Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty! The whole earth is filled with his glory!" 4The
glorious singing shook the Temple to its foundations, and the entire sanctuary was filled with smoke. 5Then I said, "My destruction is sealed,
for I am a sinful man and a member of a sinful race. Yet I have seen the King, the LORD Almighty!" 6Then one of the seraphim flew over to
the altar, and he picked up a burning coal with a pair of tongs. 7He touched my lips with it and said, "See, this coal has touched your lips.
Now your guilt is removed, and your sins are forgiven." Isaiah 6, 1-7
The painting, “The Vision of Isaiah”, depicts the moment when a seraph touches Isaiah’s lips with a burning coal. This powerful passage of
scripture lends itself well to the medium of painting because a single image tells the story, yet tells more than just the story. The heavenly
bright being descending to Isaiah conveys the truth that every good thing, including salvation, comes from above, from something stronger
than mortal man.
The story also acts as a powerful metaphor of the gospel. Commentaries on the passage say that the burning coal and smoke-filled temple
would have been signs of condemnation and judgment. Instead, miraculously, the burning coal touches Isaiah’s lips and he is cleansed,
echoing the hymn, “…’twas Grace that taught my heart to fear, and Grace my fears relieved”.
Although the painting as a whole is from imagination, many parts are based on painting studies done by the artist on site. For instance, the
temple with its massive pillars rising out of deep grass is based on the ruins of the Roman Temple, Paestum. The mountain landscape is
based on studies from the artist’s home in North Carolina. The distant islands are based on paintings of the rocky coast of California.
The great curtains from the temple entrance represent the spirit of God. They flow through the space and lovingly envelope Isaiah. The
curtain also references the torn temple curtain of the crucifixion. In the passage, God is described as sitting on a throne. The artist chose to
symbolize Him by placing the setting sun just above the throne.
Angels have been depicted in paintings throughout Art History. The angels from Isaiah’s vision were seraphim, traditionally the highest order
of celestial beings. The word “seraphim” has connotations of “fire” or even “serpents”. What Isaiah saw was beyond description. Two sets of
wings covered the face and feet, and one set were flying. These were not the fairy-like, lithe, and beautiful angels of popular depiction.
Their singing shook the great temple. The artist pictures them with heads tilted back almost impossibly with only the wide-open mouths
showing. The wings themselves are based on studies of songbirds.
The whole project took a little over a year to complete.